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High Performance Management Principles

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday is to spend a few hours at the local bookstore. I’m lucky in that my family also enjoys the experience. We start with a cup of coffee, or hot chocolate, a big cookie and then sit down for a little conversation about what we are going to look for and do as we browse in the bookstore. The bookstore is one of the few places where I allow my kids to buy just about anything they want.

While I enjoy browsing lots of different sections of the store, I always spend the most time in the business management or leadership sections. I love reading about leadership. There is no possible way I could keep up with all the reading in the field, but I love sifting through everything, looking for the gold amidst all the dust. Everyone seems to have their own take on what effective leadership is, and many, if not most, like to differentiate between leadership and management. After reading so much on the topic, I’m not sure the two are so easily separable, nor do I think there is a ton of new stuff being written.

I have distilled most of what I have read about leadership down to what I call the Ten Principles of High Performance Management. These are the common elements that I have found in the business, education and military leadership fields. Not every author would agree with all of them, and each one does not ascribe to all of them. But, I have been refining this list for the last 20 or so years and I keep seeing these principles over and over again.

  1. The organization has clear and explicit values — things towards which the organization publicly strives.
  2. The organization has clear and well-communicated goals that are commonly understood/shared throughout the organization’s membership.
  3. There is a synthesis between the stated goals and the daily operational decisions and routines of the organization’s membership.
  4. The organization values its members and regards them as its most valuable asset.
  5. The organization also values autonomy, entrepreneurial behavior and innovation and has systems in place for empowering and rewarding such behavior.
  6. The organization and its membership know the obstacles that lay between their current standing and their goals and there is a plan in place to address these obstacles.
  7. The policies and practices of the organization are aligned with goals.
  8. The organization has a system in place for routinely assessing progress toward goals — an orientation for continuous improvement with requisite supporting systems — feedback loops — use of data to inform practices, etc.
  9. The organization is able to and does respond appropriately to changes in goals — flexible — managed evolution, etc.
  10. The organization is vigilant — has systems in place for remaining aware of changes in the external or internal environment that will require changes in goals, routines, configurations, etc.

Having a clear set of espoused values is of critical importance, because they provide the overall roadmap for organizational operations. Without explicitly stated values, there are no “rules of the road” and a communi organizational culture is more likely to develop in a haphazard and unhealthy way.

If values are the rules of the road, clear well-communicated goals are the destination entered into the GPS. Even if everyone in the organization does not get to drive, they need to know the destination to help make the turns and other efforts more tolerable. Goals are directly related to motivation.

To reinforce the link between goals and motivation, High performing managers make the link between goals and everyday activities explicit. They don’t leave it to chance that organization members will figure out the connection between their actions and where the big picture is headed.

Contrary to popular opinion, valuing the organization members as it’s most valuable asset is not about money. Although, certainly a respectable wage and humane health benefits are important, value is about building trust and creating agency. Valuing organization members is about giving them meaningful opportunities in charting the course.

Part of these meaningful opportunities has to do with creating structures that encourage innovative thinking. By rewarding entrepreneurial behavior managers are not only seeking better ideas to improve performance, they are also sharing their leadership and power with others.

High performing managers don’t ignore the things that will make goal attainment difficult and they don’t hide the obstacles from their teams. Instead, being clear about what will be difficult helps engage everyone in problem solving and builds trust between managers and their team.

Alignment between what managers say the organization is about and the actual day-to-day auctions is critical to focusing everyone’s efforts. Nothing saps motivation more than when managers spend money and people’s time on efforts that are not articulated in the values and goals of the organization. It feels wasted effort, it’s disrespectful, and erodes trust.

Being able to know exactly where the organization is, in relation to their goals is key in keeping motivation at optimal levels. If you have run a race, you know exactly how important this concept is. As a runner, if you have no idea if you are going to have to run for another 10 miles, 5 miles, 1 mile, or only 200 more yards, you become demoralized pretty quickly. The organization needs regular and frequent updates on progress to know if their efforts are paying off in order to keep that effort up.

Organizations also have to be able to respond to changes in their environment. Sometimes goals change. If these changes take people by surprise, it can be deadly. Planning for changes, especially having a plan for unforeseen changes is important. Letting people know up front that “the environment is dynamic and if goals change, here is how we will handle it” is helpful in keeping staff trust in volatile times.

In that same vein, trying to minimize environmental surprises and changes in goals requires a vigilant monitoring system to anticipate disruptions. This cannot be a reliance on hunches, but a systematic process that people can make sense of so as not to erode their trust.

Consider these ten High Performance management Principles the next time you pick up a leadership book. Do they resonate? How would you refine them? Will you attempt to incorporate them in your work?



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Laurence Spring

Laurence Spring


Public Educator: teacher, teacher trainer, assistant principal, principal, special ed. director, assistant superintendent, and 14 years as a superintendent.